Tuesday, 19 April 2011

How we live reflects who we are

[Images taken from the Barbara Krakow Gallery website].

If you're a hoarder (or know one), you'll understand the pressing need to hold onto keepsakes and trinkets, despite the fact that they may not be regularly touched or used. You might want to keep hundreds of books and papers that are no longer relevant but sit comfortably on a shelf, gathering dust but becoming impossible to move or replace. If this all sounds familiar, the world of Ralph Horne will be greatly familiar to you; a writer of racy novels, a painter, lawyer and activist, Horne's house in the South part of Boston was full to the brim with what can only be described as 'stuff' gathered from his many professions. When the photographer Shellburne Thurber heard about him, she felt compelled to visit, particularly as she has a fascination with capturing homes, rooms and unusual scenery. The ensuing exhibition of her images and her recreations of life chez Horne (also known as 9 Wellington Street) can be seen at the Barbara Krakow Gallery, 10 Newbury Street, Boston, Massachusetts, which I visited last week as part of a long weekend away from Britain.

As a bit of a hoarder myself (okay, that's a serious understatement), I was captivated by the ordered chaos of Horne's clutter, whilst my mum remarked that it was "just like seeing your desk in an art gallery, only neater" (thanks for that). It was bizarre to see this addictive collecting in a male's home, as I often associate my own mess with that well-known stereotype of the cat lady or the lonely old spinster who dies surrounded by detritus that is meaningless to anyone but herself. I think of men as being lovingly lazy but ultimately ordered, and Horne is a definite exception to this assumption. This was a house aching to be explored, and Thurber allows us to go part of the way towards being there, and to feel that we are between its walls and gazing into its mirrors. We become house guests in the areas replicated at the Barbara Krakow, where wallpaper has been sourced to mimic old designs and shelves positively groan with Horne's stash of goods. There must be a legacy of memories attached to each item, from the threadbare teddies and lumpy robots to the hardback books with threadbare spines and blackened edges. There is a childlike atmosphere of greed here, of needing to possess everything and line it up to show that you have a complete series of novels or toy models, just because you can. However, this does not feel sinister, and there is a sense of time standing still in these photographs which is incredibly precious. After the project ended, Horne moved into sheltered accomodation and his house was renovated before being divided into two apartments which were quickly snapped up by affluent Boston residents. Gone were the cracks in the ceiling and the piles of old furniture; gone was the ivy that had crept inside the windows and up the walls; but gone too was its charm and its character, and the identity that Horne had given it.

Yet all was not lost. A member of the gallery staff told me excitedly that one of the new tenants at 9 Wellington Street had visited the exhibition and bought a photograph of the hallway as it used to be (which can be seen above - it's the monochrome image at the top). They were fascinated by the changes that the house had undergone before becoming the apartments and were disappointed that so little of the original details had remained. The image now hangs in its rightful place, the hallway which it depicts, and stands as a reminder of what it used to be.

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